815

Hep to HatHut

Robert Spencer By

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It all started with Joe McPhee, and what better place to start? Werner X. Uehlinger, a Swiss music lover, heard Joe's music and was determined to make sure it was preserved and reached the widest possible audience. In 1975, he founded HatHut Records to put out McPhee's music. He did that, but we can also be eternally grateful that at some point early on he decided to bring us the work of other artists as well—artists of like mind and like soul, although their music would be as diverse as the mountains, the sea, and the air: music from Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Anthony Braxton, Morton Feldman, Matthew Shipp, Jimmy Giuffre, David Liebman, Archie Shepp, Lou Harrison, Ellery Eskelin, and so many others—over 300 LP's and CD's in all since those palmy days spent producing Joe McPhee records.

Virtually from the beginning, even when he was quite strapped for cash, Uehlinger emphasized not only inner beauty (no matter how unanticipated or hard won) but outer beauty as well: HatHut LP's and CD's have always been brilliantly packaged, with abundant treats for the eyes as well as the ears—not to mention liner notes of provocative acuity and grace from some of the most ingenious individuals writing in this field. I never had the privilege of owning any of the LP's, but I had the wonderful opportunity of exploring the HatHut collection of a musician friend some time ago; after savoring the sumptuousness of those boxed sets that he has treasured for years, I can only hope that his friends know nothing of the existence of those discs and that his apartment has a secure burglar alarm system.

Anyway, you can tell from the name-drops of Stockhausen, Cage, Feldman others above that although HatHut's roots are with McPhee in post-Coltrane, post-Ayler, post-Ornette jazz, the label has by no means restricted itself to this field. Perhaps such a development was a logical result of involvement with masters like Anthony Braxton, whose sensibilities were always divided between, or perhaps more precisely a unification of, the disparate ethos of, say, Louis Armstrong, Coltrane, and (quite explicitly) Stockhausen himself. To do justice to Braxton's music, as Uehlinger has superbly in both the "jazz" and "classical" arenas, one has to have not only a foot in both camps, but a profound awareness and understanding of, not to mention a love for, the often unexpected and sometimes even forbidding music that may result. HatHut has never been afraid of concrete music or noise effects, having imbibed thoroughly Cage's philosophy that music can be found anywhere by anyone willing and able to open his ears and listen ; but what may ultimately be most delightful about the now-magnificently sprawling Hat oeuvre is the utterly winning quality of it all, the astounding and stringent quality of even the most experimental releases, that could never possibly be mistaken for mere gimmickry or fakery. And those experiments, of course, coexist in the Hat catalogue with numerous other endeavors that, whatever else they may be, are always in their own way and with their own character quite abundantly glorious.

The musicians knew this before anyone else. Otherwise why would they have trekked to the Alpine wilds of Switzerland to make recordings, when so many other opportunities were available to them closer to hand? Clearly they knew that Werner X. Uehlinger was offering them an opportunity to capture their sound more perfectly, with more crystalline fidelity, than virtually anyone else—and arguably, many if not most of the musicians in the HatHut catalogue have never been better recorded, no matter how long, varied, and abundantly recorded their careers have been. The Hat releases of every one of them—particularly Braxton, Lacy, and McPhee himself—stand among the finest releases in their catalogues, so that if you were to assemble a list of the essential recordings of each, it simply wouldn't be accurate or complete without the Hats.

So that even if HatHut Records never reach a large audience, each one is a jewel unto itself. Uehlinger explains that this has all been part of the plan: "I cannot compete with the big companies, going in the same directions, trying to compete for a mass audience. My intention is to work within the field of the minorities, of the marginal. I think there are, worldwide, enough people who enjoy such marginal music or arts, to support them. I think it's important also, for me, to take big risks, and learn from my errors, in order to go on to the next step. It's important to listen to the musicians and composers. I feel that HatHut is run like an art gallery, where a musician or composer has from time to time the chance to display his current level of musical development...or even a past level he was never able to present."

Now, to top it all off, there are three Hats. "Over the years," explains HatHut's official history, "Uehlinger has introduced several new label names under the HatHut umbrella, in order to indicate the changing styles and musical attitudes of its artists. In the past these included HatHut, hatMUSICS, hatART, as well as the three designations currently under production: hatOLOGY (for Jazz and related improvised music), hat[now]ART (to represent Contemporary Composition and New Music), and hatNOIR (to serve as a home for fresh, unpredictable, innovative, uncategorizable projects)." Sample each in the reviews accompanying this feature. But don't just read about them.

Economics are an ongoing problem. The Hat history site also contains an account of the label's adventures with various corporate sponsors, and of the necessity of such sponsorship for the label to survive. Nevertheless (or consequently), Uehlinger has instituted a new Midprice program: "Beginning in September 2003 each month different CDs from the extensive Hat Hut catalog will be offered as midprice-CDs. These will be selected monthly from hat[now]ART numbers 101 through 136, hatOLOGY numbers 501 through 564, and hatNOIR 801 through 803. 20 titles of the series hatOLOGY will be offered as midprice-CDs in September to celebrate 20 years of distribution through Harmonia Mundi. 10 more titles of the series hat(now)ART will follow in October 2003. Amounts are limited! Watch the Hat Hut website each month."

Get them while they last. Long before I was a reviewer, I was an ardent fan of HatHut Records. Never did I see or hear one that didn't give me a quickening of anticipation at the sight of that unmistakable red (and now orange) spine, and never did I find one that ended up disappointing me. Werner X. Uehlinger has been, against immense odds, publishing outstanding non-commercial music for over 25 years now. Here's hoping for another 25, and many more beyond.

25 Great Hats

Morton Feldman
For John Cage
hat[now]ART 124

Josje Ter Haar (violin) and John Snijders (piano) work through nearly seventy minutes of Feldman's airy minimalist clusters: mostly two-note and three-note intervals, repeated and melded and transmuted into others. It is music of immense detail and concentration, rewarding careful attention and inducing the sort of hypnotic reverie that Cage himself identified as the purpose of music: to sober and quiet the mind, making it susceptible to divine influences. The instruments are sounded cleanly and quietly, without bombast or vibrato. Much of the time they follow one another sequentially, note for note or small cluster for small cluster, and then suddenly intertwine and work off one another, but only for an instant. It is music that brings you closer, makes you sit up and pay attention to the details. In an age when most of what passes for music is hammering rant that demands your attention with such stentorian bullying that the mind recoils from it, it is refreshing to find this small, clear, inviting music that, while making no demands whatsoever, ends up delivering a great deal more than all that shouting.

Paul Bley, Franz Koglmann, Gary Peacock
Annette
hatOLOGY 564

Mysteriously beautiful music from the mysterious Annette Peacock, the master composer, occasional singer and recording artist, and former wife of both Gary Peacock (bass) and Paul Bley (piano). This is muted, understated, but deeply emotional and personal music. Lyrics are not sung or included in the text except for a few beguiling samples in the liner notes, matching the intense but subtle passion of the music: "So I will die and everything will fade away, / Nothing ever was, anyway . . ." It is all played without overt expressionism or empty fanfare, but is as powerful as one might expect given the mastery of these three players—and especially given the circumstances of the composer's relationship with two of the three (Franz Koglmann adds flugelhorn, trumpet, and, presumably, a bit of detachment.) Bley is really at the center, as is fitting since Annette Peacock wrote a good bit of this music, according to Art Lange's liner notes, as "environments he had to perpetuate." Gary Peacock and Koglmann perpetuate them as well, lingering in the landscapes of wistfulness, regret, and quiet resolution.

Albert Ayler
Lörrach, Paris, 1966
hatOLOGY 573

After nearly forty years, the music of Albert Ayler sounds more than ever like the music of celebration—so much so that it's hard to remember the fire-breathing subversive revolutionary he was supposed to be in the Sixties. Joe McPhee once told me that when he first heard Ayler, he was transfixed by the colors—by the wild range and expressiveness of this music. It is lost none of its power. I heard this recording many years ago and it had the limited range of an old audience recording; however, the transformation in this edition is nothing short of miraculous. The disc was remastered by Hat's crack engineer Peter Pfister in 2001, and the results are astounding. Talk about colors. I never had the privilege of seeing Albert Ayler in person, but I can hear this: Ayler with his brother Don Ayler (trumpet) and classical violinist Michel Samson forming a frontline of whirling dervish intensity, creating what Peter Niklas Wilson in his liner notes calls "free spiritual music." Glorious.

Franz Koglmann / Lee Konitz
We Thought About Duke
hatOLOGY 543

A provocative and revealing exploration of some of Duke Ellington's lesser-known numbers, including "Lament for Javanette" and "Love Is In My Heart," plus several gems from Ellington associates, such as Juan Tizol's "Pyramid," Billy Strayhorn's "Dirge," and more. The arrangements open new perspectives on this music, owing to the unconventional instrumentation—in fact, two unconventional instrumentations: half of this disc is performed by a quintet of Konitz (alto sax), Tony Coe (clarinet and tenor sax), Koglmann (trumpet, flugelhorn), Bernard Stangl (guitar), and Klaus Koch (bass); the other half teams Konitz and Koglmann with Rudolf Ruschel (trombone) and Raoul Herget (tuba). The music is presented not as a straight-faced theme-and-improvisations tribute, but as a series of quite empathetic variations on Ellington's beguilingly sidelong melodies. These are full of imagination—cf. Koglmann's wonderfully apropos semi-quote of "Lonely Woman" during "Lament for Javanette"—and are often marked by rubato passages that open up the field for new approaches. Fascinating.

James Tenney
Music for Violin & Piano
hat[now]ART 120

James Tenney says a thought-provoking thing in the liners to this one: "I'm not interested in musical emotion... I don't have any interest in drama—in fact, I do everything I can to avoid it. I'm seeking a more basic level of perception, rather than taste and judgment. (I've done some pieces with ugly sounds. Ugly sounds can be useful too.)" And later: "[My music is] sound for the sake of perceptual insight—some kind of perceptual revelation." These violin/piano (Marc Sabat, violin; Stephen Clarke, piano) duets explicate those theses through a series of generally disconnected sounds, many of them scarcely discernable as having emanated from a violin or a piano at all. When sounds we would ordinarily classify as "musical" cut into and across "non-musical" sounds, the effect is just what Tenney seems to have intended: a certain arrest and focus of attention, a ground set for "perceptual revelation."

Franz Koglmann
O Moon My Pin-Up
hatOLOGY 566

Ezra Pound's Cantos are an enduring monument of modernist poetry, a beguiling, maddening, moving, awe-inspiring masterpiece of a mess that has fascinated me for two decades now. The most powerful segment, the Pisan Cantos, written while the mad and utterly politically deranged poet was under arrest for making pro-fascist broadcasts from Italy during World War II. The Pisans are a sprawling, bewildering, enthralling thing, and so is this musical tribute to them by Franz Koglmann with a large ensemble. It's an operatic-musical comedy-Partchian singspiel setting of some passages taken from them. Soprano Ursula Fiedler is magnificent, singing some passages with utter and unqualified beauty; her chief foil is Phil Minton as Ezra Pound himself, shouting out most of the passages from the Pisans that contain profanity (disregarding the fact that Pound himself didn't spell out these words in the poem itself, but used dashes and abbreviations.) Just as in the poem itself, there are moments here of great ugliness and magnificent, terrible beauty.

Ellery Eskelin with Andrea Parkins & Jim Black
Arcanum Moderne
hatOLOGY 588

Speaking of Ezra Pound, he is the man who observed that any note could follow any other note and be pleasing to the ears, given the proper rhythmic interval. Ellery Eskelin tests that theory on the fascinating trio disc Arcanum Moderne, which places quite free soloing above the backdrop of tasty conventional rhythmic patterns, unconventionally delivered by Andrea Parkins (accordion, piano, and sampler) and Jim Black (drums and percussion). Eskelin sounds like a cross between Joshua Redman and Evan Parker. His tenor soloing is an interesting blend of clear, sharp, melodic improvising, a la Redman, and post-Evan Parker sound explorations, which take on quite a different character here, in the context of these catchy melodies and beats, from how they appear on Parker's own discs. And that, clearly, is the idea, although there is a good helping here also of arrhythmic explorations—notably the beginning of the offbeat "Five Walls."

Loren MazzaCane Connors & Jim O'Rourke
In Bern
hatNOIR 803

Well, I was all set for a post-Ayler "Dueling Banjos," a two-guitar freak-out from a small dark room featuring peeling paint, a naked light bulb in the ceiling, a beat-up card table and framed photos of Derek Bailey and Charles Gayle, but instead what do I get? Meditative sonority and delicacy, gently building, waxing and waning and never quite stating a conventional melody—but never straying too far from one, either. "If John Cage had ever composed any country music, it would certainly have sounded like this," asserts Thierry Jousse, and he certainly has a point. This music makes as much use of silence as Cage ever did, so that the spaces in the music become practically a third partner with Connors and O'Rourke. If ever there was music capable of sobering and quieting the mind, making it susceptible to divine influences, it is the music that is created here.

Jon Lloyd
Four and Five
hatOLOGY 537

A most unusual quartet: Lloyd (alto and soprano saxophones), Stan Adler (cello), Marcio Mattos (bass), and Paul Clarvis (drums and percussion). The vibe here is something like The Gentle Side of Albert Ayler, particularly Ayler's work with violinist Michel Samson. There is a heavy string flavor to this, no set pulse (except when there is), and a great abundance of incisive saxophonics—never of the frenetic variety, but always with an atypical and piquant melodicism. Lloyd's quartet here is less conventional than his work in other settings, but at the same time, even on a smashing cover of Duke Ellington's "Take the Coltrane," it retains a deep and effective acquaintance with the great trailblazers of the form. If Coltrane or Ellington were to hear this version of their memorable collaboration from Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, would they recognize it as the natural next stage of the tradition in which they were working. I believe they would. And that they would applaud.

Maneri / Morris / Maneri
Out Right Now
hatOLOGY 561

A marvelous excursion from the overlooked master of microtones, the pitch-bending trailblazer, Joe Maneri (alto and tenor saxophones and piano), along with Joe Morris (guitar) and Joe's son Mat Maneri (violin). Six free improvisations credited to all three members of the group, as is altogether fitting and proper given the highly interactive and collaborative nature of this effort. In the liner notes Bob Blumenthal praises the "level of three-way agreement" on this disc, and that is an apposite phrase. There is some spooky uncredited vocalese here and there—apparently by Joe, since the violin and guitar are hard at work making it work, and succeeding. Shades of Coltrane's groaning on Live in Seattle, but in a much less frenzied setting. That's not to say, however, that Joe can't bring it. He can, and does. Joe Maneri is, according to Morris, "a soulful balladeer on tenor, and a crying alto player, and a mournful clarinetist. It's like smoky trio music in a modern dialect, not experimental music." Indeed.

John Law Quartet
Abacus
hatOLOGY 567

The subtitle of Abacus is "Partita for piano, saxophone, bass, drums." Law has modeled this music on a baroque suite. "Baroque music is very close to me," he says in the liners. "I've been playing Bach all my life." Long ago when I was a music teacher, I used to play my students a bit of Bach and then a bit of Charlie Parker, to illustrate to them the close ties between baroque and bebop. Law's music here (with Jon Lloyd, alto and soprano saxophones, Tim Wells, bass, and Gerry Hemingway, drums & percussion) doesn't sound superficially as much like Bach and Bird did on occasion, but there is a great deal of formal similarity—most notably the structure of these seven pieces, which are taken straight from baroque forms: "Ouverture," "Courante," "Aria," "Burlesque," "Sarabande," "Gigue," and "Passacaglia." Law's playing is precise in classical fashion while never being dry or dispassionate (cf. his ringing solo on "Courante"), and these somewhat abstract explorations are enormously captivating.

John Zorn
Cobra
hatOLOGY 2-580

Here it is, the great game, the immense joke, the ultra-serious experiment, the grand reverie, two hours of radio channel surfing, electronic play, multi-instrumental interaction, ringing telephones, yelling, and much, much more. It's quite a different sensibility from the Hebraic folk bebop of Zorn's Masada discs, but it has its own unique and compelling logic. Zorn and the large ensemble he has assembled here (for two discs: a studio version and a live one) mine the John Cage imperative of finding music in multitudes of "unmusical" sounds, blended with some quite conventionally "musical" ones, particularly on the live disc. Coming from someone with so cinematic a sensibility as John Zorn, it is no surprise that both of these discs are rapid-fire, cutting in and out of noise and music, of fire and cloud, of quotes of "Sentimental Journey" and groanings from the very heart of the earth. It is indeed a great game.

Billy Bang & Denis Charles
Bangception
hatOLOGY 517

If Ornette Coleman could really play the violin, he would sound like Billy Bang. If a classical violinist were to pick up his instrument one day with a finely honed disregard for the walls and hedges around what he considered to be acceptable music, and to play all the pathos and grandeur and splendor and wreckage of his own soul, he would sound like Billy Bang. Are you aware of what a total gas Billy Bang is? Are you aware of the wild swinging emotionalism of his playing, the fervor, the inventiveness, the classical sense of order and the freewheeling sense of adventure? Are you aware that he is one of the most ingenious and resourceful improvisers whose recordings are available today? And then there is the vast and much-missed Denis Charles, a rhythmic wizard who proves here to be a superb foil for Bang's high-intensity string music-for-a-new-century violin explorations.

Lou Harrison
Labyrinth
hat[now]ART 105

If you have never heard the spectacular percussion-based music of the great and nearly forgotten American master Harry Partch, you may dare to entertain a doubt or two about the melodic strength and viability of a full-length 70-minute disc performed entirely by a percussion ensemble—in this case the Maelstrom Percussion Ensemble. Doubt no more. Lou Harrison was always the most melodically acute (as well as one of the most decent and sweet as a human being) of the twentieth century's avant-garde composers, and this all-percussion disc is full of bejeweled motifs that make you forget that the players are all just banging, not sawing or blowing, even though the primary emphasis here is still on forward motion, even on a danceable rhythm, and not on melodic exploration as such. The music here was all composed between 1938 and 1942, but it sounds not a millisecond dated. Harrison's sensibilities were not of one time, but for all ages.

Matthew Shipp Duo with Mat Maneri
Gravitational Systems
hatOLOGY 530

Shipp has the stamina and high-octane improvisational skills to be an energy player in the Cecil Taylor mode, and he very often is just that. However, there is a variegation and nuance to his playing that is not so much lacking in Taylor's as it is simply different from the older master's approach. On this disc he and Mat Maneri (violin) generally set a medium pace—not "mid-tempo" because it is highly elastic and frequently transmuting, but it doesn't attempt the ferocious attack of, say, Taylor with Leroy Jenkins. There are two stimulating covers included here, "Greensleeves" and "Naima"—both associated with Coltrane although the treatment that both get here has virtually nothing to do with Coltrane's approach (a refreshing fact in light of the armies of slavish imitators that are still marching everywhere today). The rest of the disc is filled with Shipp's own compositions—oblique post-Brahmsian excursions such as "Series of Planes," sound-and-silence duets ("Landscape Harmony"). Every one is a keeper. As is this disc.

Horace Tapscott
The Dark Tree 1 & 2
hatOLOGY 2-540

File this one under "music by people who should be household names but aren't." On these discs there are two of them: pianist and composer Horace Tapscott and clarinetist John Carter (which is not to say that bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Andrew Cyrille don't hold up their end, either; they do, and admirably so). Simply put: what beautiful music this is—not precious, not predictable, certainly not conventional, but in all respects suffused with Tapscott's winning sense of how much is enough and how much is too much. Indeed, a primary impression I get from listening to both of these discs is an immense sense of order, in the composition as well as in the improvising—an architectonic sensibility that stands on a par with that of Ellington or Charles Mingus. It's all the more tragic that Tapscott labored in obscurity for so long, but at least in The Dark Tree we get a sense of what might have been, and what was.

Jimmy Giuffre & André Jaume
Momentum, Willisau 1988
hatOLOGY 508

Jimmy Giuffre is another one: he should be as well known as Kenny G or at least Miles Davis, but instead . . . instead we have these clear-cut and vast duos, featuring Giuffre on clarinet and soprano sax with André Jaume on bass clarinet and tenor, performed live at Jazz Festival Willisau in 1988. Giuffre's music is soft-spoken and understated, as are the courteous, even courtly, somewhat old-fashioned announcements he makes between each piece, giving its title and other particulars. But the music can be deceiving: it always skirts the edge of innovation and is full of an excitement that may elude those who are accustomed to having all their musical drama telegraphed by shouts and crashes. It's small wonder that Giuffre would be so much admired by Joe McPhee (who has, of course, played and recorded with Jaume); although their approaches are superficially vastly different, both have an invigorating ability to the subtlest reaches of a melody and to display them for all they're worth. It's a pity that none of these men have gotten the recognition they deserve.

Myra Melford Trio
Alive in the House of the Saints
hatOLOGY 2-570

A double-disc reissue of the outstanding 1993 single disc, with four additional tracks that live up in every respect to the quality of the original release. Myra Melford's is a muscular, ringing attack that sounds as true as a sledgehammer hitting a rail peg. Hers also is a diaphanous delicacy that breathes deeply within the music and creates an atmosphere fruitful for meditation. Lindsey Horner (bass) and Reggie Nicholson (drums) are apposite accompanists and much more, providing strong alternate voices to create a positive dialogue. Melford's voice is firmly individual, with flashes of everyone from Red Garland to Cecil Taylor, Bud Powell and Igor Stravinsky, and "That's the Peace" may nod just a bit, in its introductory moments, to Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures At an Exhibition, but she has taken all these disparate influences, if indeed they are legitimate and not just my own associations on hearing various motifs and fragments, and fashioned her own distinctively brisk, commonsensical, and eloquently persuasive approach.

Vienna Art Orchestra
The Minimalism of Erik Satie
hatOLOGY 2-570

The music of Erik Satie, the deceptively puckish, great-souled French impressionist master, here becomes the basis for a series of "Reflections" by Mathias Ruegg of the Vienna Art Orchestra. The Orc also performs three "Vexations" and "Gnossienne No. 3" by Satie, but the "Reflections" pieces don't stray too far from the main road in any case. What is striking about this is the instrumentation: the high-flying and deeply affecting abstract vocalese of Lauren Newton, the quicksilver trumpet of Karl "Burni" Fian, the absolutely correct soprano of Harry Sokal. Also, the superlative duet between Newton and the mid-to late-Coltrane (with a tinge of Evan Parker) tenor saxophonics of Roman Schwaller on "Reflections on Gnossienne No. 2" are absolutely not to be missed. The large ensemble as a whole has none of the ponderousness that often infects gatherings of this kind; on the contrary, it's extraordinarily nimble and light on its feet.

Steve Lacy—Roswell Rudd Quartet
School Days
hatOLOGY 578

In March 1963, when this disc was probably recorded, the music of Thelonious Monk didn't have the iconic status that it enjoys today. But then as now, one of its most energetic and resourceful advocates was Steve Lacy, who himself had a brief stint in Monk's large group in 1960. Lacy has referred to his group with Roswell Rudd that played only Monk (here fortuitously recorded on tape that has now been vastly, wondrously cleaned up by hat engineer Peter Pfister) as a school—a school of music, of composition, of improvisation, and more. As Peter Kostakis puts it in the liners, these seven Monk tunes are "hard-won lessons in economy and complementary interplay." The highlight of this magnificent disc is the tricky "Brilliant Corners," which Monk himself and Sonny Rollins weren't able to get down in one complete take during a session in the 1950s. Lacy and Rudd are a phenomenal pairing; no jazz fan should be without any of their recorded collaborations.

Cecil Taylor Unit
It Is In the Brewing Luminous
hatOLOGY 562

It may be hard to believe, when listening to School Days and It Is In the Brewing Luminous back-to-back, that Cecil Taylor and Steve Lacy played together in the Fifties. Yet for all the astonishing fire-breathing quality of this music—which is one continuous 69-minute piece—it never loses its sense of inner logic or its cataclysmic dramatic power. Taylor is famous for pounding the keyboard with his elbows, and there is some of that here. But to emphasize that aspect of the music—a kind of full-bore Cageism—would not do justice to the astounding facility of Taylor's high-speed, high volume improvisations. Taylor is responsible for awesome firepower on this disc, but this edition of his Unit is no slouch either. This music also features the formidable Jimmy Lyons on alto saxophone, along with violinist Ramsey Ameen, Alan Silva on bass and cello, and Jerome Cooper and Sunny Murray on drums.

Sun Ra Arkestra
Sunrise In Different Dimensions
hatOLOGY 568

Let's see. On this one we have "Pin-Points Of Spiral Prisms," "Round Midnight," "Silhouettes of the Shadow World," "Take the A Train," "Disguised Gods In Skullduggery Rendez-Vous," Noble Sissle's "Yeah Man!" and more—that's right, it's a Sun Ra record, with the Man from Saturn in absolutely top form in a concert at Willisau in 1980. All the most noted Arkestra members are also having a tremendous night, serving up Ra's unique combination of intellerstellar freak-out and Forties big band—notably Marshall Allen (alto sax, oboe, flute); John Gilmore (tenor sax, clarinet, flute); and Michael Ray (trumpet, flugelhorn). Ra's piano sums up the enigmatic and fluent versatility of the whole ensemble, as it transitions seamlessly from ragtime to post-Cecil Taylor sturm und drang. Somehow Ra manages to join these two universes and make them seem as if they were never really all that far apart after all. And I believe that they weren't.

Matthew Shipp String Trio
Expansion, Power, Release
hatOLOGY 558

Versatility is the watchword on this tight set of fourteen Matthew Shipp compositions performed by Shipp, violinist Mat Maneri, and the stupendous bassist William Parker. Consider, for example, the transition between the apocalyptic "Expansion" to the lyrical "Waltz," and then to the dark and meditative "Combinational Entity." Shipp, Maneri and Parker work comfortably within what is traditionally considered to be a jazz idiom, but stylistically this set is all over the map—and that's all to the good. All three performers are aware of and conversant in both post-Parker idioms (that is, post-Charlie and post-Evan), as well as of a gamut of classical developments both pre-modern and ultra avant-garde. It may seem improbable that anyone, much less a relatively young man like Matthew Shipp, could convincingly channel Olivier Messaien, Cecil Taylor, and Bud Powell, as well as a host of others. But here it is. (Perhaps that's misleading: Shipp is much more than just the sum of his influences, real and imagined. Much more.)

Guillermo Gregorio
Degrees of Iconicity
hat[now]ART 134

"Much more directly than, for example, Webern, Feldman, or Tristano, who have often been cited as influencing my work, I think that the most important elements acting on my music come from the visual arts—more specifically, from the so-called 'constructive' tendencies of 20th century art, namely, some varieties of Constructivism and Concrete Art." Thus Guillermo Gregorio, the composer, conductor, clarinetist, and alto saxophonist on these ten oblique and beguiling pieces. Certainly to close your eyes and picture them as visual constructs is a fruitful exercise, for there is a great deal of variations of color in this music, courtesy of the contrasts between Gregorio's horns, Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello, and Carrie Biolo's delicious vibraphone and marimba. (Lonberg-Holm also contributes a cornet, and bassists Michael Cameron and Kent Kessler are on hand for some of the proceedings.) Take, for example, the sharp transitionless contrasts between cello and vibes on "First Sketch for 'Omaggio a Luigi Nono.'" If you pay attention, you can see it all.

Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy
Live at Dreher Paris 1981
hatOLOGY 4-596

There is so much that is so right, so perfect, so enduring about these collaborations between Mal Waldron (piano) and Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone) that without exaggeration they ought to be in the home not only of everyone who loves jazz, but everyone who has ever experienced his soul being brightened by any piece of music at all. Waldron's muscular romanticism was the precisely correct counterpart to Lacy's dry, wry sax, and on these four discs they made music full of immense soul, ravishing beauty, overflowing, flooding power, outrageous drama, high-speed hijinx, and much more, music that is at the heart of what improvised music can do and why it is so essential: music that lays bare these men's most essential perspectives, priorities, values, loves, what have you. Whether they're playing Monk (the "Well You Needn't" on cd 3 may never be equaled), Lacy (cf. the two highly distinct and angular takes of "No Baby") or Waldron ("Snake Out" from disc 1 is nothing short of monumental), this music is simply a textbook example of what it means to improvise, what it means to play music, what it means to live. If anything was ever an essential classic, it is this.
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